Truphone specialize in cheap or free international calls. A common claim in the current global telecoms market. But Truphone are a little different. They are an MVNO, they produce their own specialized sim card which can use multiple international numbers simultaneously and they make the oldest VoIP (voice over internet protocol) app that is currently available. I first discovered them whilst looking into mobile virtual network operators and what I saw intrigued me so I delved deeper.
The Truphone application was launched in 2006 and is available on Android, iPhone/iPad and Blackberry 10 devices. It offers a free VoIP calling service to other Truphone app users and also allows you to call landlines and mobile phones indifferent countries for a very low charge. When you are not within wi-fi range the offeres you the ‘Truphone Anywhere’ option which allows you to make a local call to Truphone which is then connected to the long distance number. As most standard price plans include a number of local calls free of charge in practice this means you pay pennies for international calls. Only select countries include the Truphone Anywhere service; at the moment it is the UK, USA, Australia and The Netherlands with Hong Kong, Germany, Spain and Poland to follow soon.
In real life use I can’t find any fault with the app. I used it on two Android devices running Jellybean (a Nexus 4 on JB 4.3 and a Motorola RAZRi on JB 4.1.2) and got reasonable quality calls even when using 3g on my mi-fi. It integrates your phones contacts seamlessly and in cases where you have multiple numbers for the same person it lists each number with a cost per minute based on the country you are in. I called Ireland from a couple of different locations in London and had no problem. Obviously costs are highly subjective depending on where you are calling from and to but I was very pleased to call a land line in Ireland from my mobile phone and get a rate of 1.2p per minute. There’s not a lot more to say about an app that makes free or cheap international calls other than it does it and does it well.
The TruSim is a pay-as-you-go sim for someone who will be making (and possibly more importantly receiving) at least semi-regular calls when abroad. The cheap calls whilst in a different country as mentioned for the app above apply plus the sim works in over 220 countries. It also has a rather special ability to both make and receive calls as if it was a sim local to a different country, you can have even have more than one number on the same sim. Ah, the interestingly unique bit!
The TruSim is the invention of James Tagg, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Truphone. It came into existence due to the varying network coverage James had to deal with and his frustration with the fact that he needed to change sim cards to to get any kind of signal in certain rural parts of the UK. He essentially wanted a way around this…
A normal sim has some hard coded numbers called the ICCID and IMSI. There is space for other variable data including contacts but these two sets of numbers give the sim it’s unique ID and are unmodifiable. James’ solution was to invent his own version of a sim which can have this identifying ID changed at a network level. Thus when your phone scans for a cell tower in a new country the TruSim can identify itself as a phone from that country and thus the listed price rates from that country apply. So whichever country you travel to you just keep using your phone as normal, you can see all the prices per minute before you make calls an everything is simple. This is a very truncated explanation of how this tech works as it is actually very complex with a lot of the details being tightly guarded industry secrets. Suffice to say that Truphone is a global company and has obviously convinced the world-wide telecommunications echo-system of it’s compatibility and security.
Now I thought that was quite interesting but what really impressed me was additional phone line option. Because of the above re-programmability, for a £5 per month charge you can add an extra phone number to your sim from one of the main ‘Truphone Countries’ . If you have chosen the extra line option and get a call from one of these countries the sim card recognizes this and identifies itself to that call as a sim from that country. Imagine you have a US, UK, and Australian number, and are local to the UK but in the US at the moment. If someone from Australia calls your Australian number, it will ring through to your phone in the US and both sides will pay local, home prices. If you then call the UK from the US, it will show your UK number on the caller ID and you will pay local prices again. Depending on where you are calling, the agreements Truphone has in that country and what additional numbers you have it intelligently picks the most appropriate number to get the best price. Pretty smart!
Truphone Network and ‘Truphone Countries’.
Truphone accomplishes their lower prices and extensive connections via a complex set of agreements in over 220 countries. The key to the savings you can make with their service is if you are traveling to, through or from a ‘Truphone country’. This is a country where Truphone is an actual mobile virtual network operator and can therefore set the prices very competitively. In the UK and the Netherlands Vodaphone are the local network, Optus in Australia and T-Mobile/AT&T in the USA. Truphone have ambitious plans to continue this business model in more and more countries which will only strengthen their offering and and bring prices down for their customers. They have been rapidly expanding recently and looking for further investors so hopefully things will only get better.
Is this appropriate for you?
Always a fair question. I suppose it depends on your holiday schedule (both geographically and numerically) and if you can incorporate it with your work. I tend to visit The Netherlands one or twice a year for at least four / five days at a time plus I have relatives and some good friends in Europe. Thus the added bonus of no messing, ‘one sim to remember and that’s it’ is very appealing. I imagine if your business involves international travel at all it could work out well for you too, obviously dependent on where you’re traveling to and from.
Have you used the Truphone App or TruSim? Do you use a different, better international sim? If so please tell us in the comments section below.